Notes on “The Movement”

From Glen Owen at the Daily Mail, a few weeks ago:

Boris Johnson was ousted by a cabal that has been controlling the Tory leadership for two decades, according to an explosive book.

In The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries identifies Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings and a powerful adviser called Dougie Smith as members of ‘the movement’.

…The book claims that the origins of ‘the movement’ can be traced back to Mr Smith’s days in the Federation of Conservative Students, more than three decades ago.

Given that Owen is the paper’s political editor, it is odd that this is written up as if “the Movement” had never been heard of before, despite references in the public domain going back decades. For instance, here is Norman Tebbit’s Wikipedia entry:

In August 2002, Tebbit called on the then leader of the Conservatives, Iain Duncan Smith, to “clear out” Conservative Central Office of “squabbling children” who were involved with infighting within the Party. He named Mark MacGregor, a former leader of the Federation of Conservative Students which Tebbit disbanded for “loony Right libertarian politics”, as one of them. Then, in October the same year, Tebbit accused a group of Conservative “modernisers” called “The Movement” of trying to get him expelled from the Party. Tebbit said that The Movement consisted of a “loose” grouping of thirteen members who had previously supported Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo for Party leader. Duncan Smith subsequently denied that Tebbit would ever be expelled and Thatcher publicly said she was “appalled” at attempts to have Tebbit expelled and telephoned him to say that she was “four square behind him”.

Tebbit’s 2002 complaint came three years after he Sunday Mirror ran an article by Danny Buckland titled “Politically Incorrect: Portillo’s Step from the Closet was too Sudden a Movement” (12 September 1999). According to Buckland:

WHEN Michael Portillo outed himself about his gay days at Cambridge, the most anxious people around were from a spooky group who call themselves “The Movement”.

This highly-secret right-wing cabal have spent the past 12 years plotting for the day when their hero could enter the doors of 10 Downing Street and rule the world.

They are the Tory equivalent of Labour’s Militant Tendency in the Eighties, squirreling their way into local party organisations to ensure the selection of Portillista MPs who will back their man when it’s time for a change of leader.

These tactics – known to all fans of Leon Trotsky as “entryist” – have been employed at every level of the party. Several newspapers have even been infiltrated by men who have risen to senior posts.

The Sunday Telegraph provided a bit more context in October 2002:

In fact, the “Movement” is nothing more than a nickname adopted with a dash of irony by young Tories of the 1990s who were devoted to keeping the spirit of Thatcherism alive in the leadership ambitions of Michael Portillo. “It was not like the Freemasons, more like a cafe – people came and went,” one member said.

Members of the set included Douglas Smith, a former member of the now-defunct Federation of Conservative of Students and Mr MacGregor, the party’s current chief executive. There is no suggestion, of course, that either of these men was directly responsible for last week’s briefing. But it is unlikely that any of them will have felt much sympathy for Lord Tebbit.

“If we saw each other in a room, we knew who we were,” said another of the group. “The ironic thing is that Tebbit would have been a hero of the Movement in 1990s when the objective was to keep Thatcherism alive against wobbly John Major. It has turned against Tebbit because it has now focused on the need for modernisation, which he opposes.

In the same month, an attempt to project “the Movement” back into the 1980s was made by the late Mike Keith-Smith, in a strange letter to the Independent (18 October 2002: “Hard-Right Tory Leaders are Masquerading as Lefty Liberals”):

The Movement originated with the far-right elements who took over first the Federation of Conservative Students, and then the Young Conservatives during the 1980s. Now that many of its adherents are MPs and senior party officials, the Movement has cynically tacked to the left of the Tory spectrum and collected a smattering of “wet” dupes to provide window dressing.

…As a trusted Movement contact and a senior member of the hard- right Monday Club, I was repeatedly asked to help organise the disruption of CND peace protests, particularly those headed by Bruce Kent, a Movement hate figure. I ceased my support for these tactics after Movement thugs hit the headlines by spearheading a disgraceful violent night assault on peaceful CND protesters camping on Brighton beach during the Tory conference.

Keith-Smith was associated with a rival right-wing strand sympathetic to Tebbit, and by this time was in UKIP. The second paragraph above appears to allude to a split between so-called “authoritarians” and “libertarians” in 1980s Tory right (blogged here), but it is unlikely that the term “the Movement” was then in use.

A further reference to “the Movement” appeared in May 2010, on a one-post blog that published an obituary of Robert Chambers, an FCS activist who had died early, written by his widow:

If I have to explain the movement and FCS to you then you weren’t in it and wouldn’t understand. For those that were… remember the days as the Leicester loonies, Loughborough Conference, being Party Reptiles and Shirley Stotter banning us from attending conference, the closure of FCS, the Leicester loonies reunions and those mad mad three years…oh my when we were young we thought we were going to rule the world – and we could have done….

The same article recalls:

He had not long moved down to London when he met me at the Conservative Party Conference in 1984/5 in Blackpool. We fell in love quickly and I moved in with him, Dougie Smith and Rob Clarkson at the squat/flat in Battersea…

Smith may not now “rule the world”, but according to The Plot he is the secret power behind the throne in Downing Street. The book distinguishes between Smith and a shadowy figure Dorries calls “Dr No”, but an éxpose that fails to name a central figure in the conspiracy makes no sense. It is far more reasonable to suppose that “Dr No” is a device which allowed the author to include allegations that lawyers felt were too risky to be attributed (1).

These old claims about “the Movement” appear to have been reheated in the service of a new round of the same right-wing factionalism that inspired Keith-Smith’s letter more than twenty years ago. Earlier this year saw the launch of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, headed by Lord Cruddas (blogged here). The CDO has been described as a “party within a party”, and is thought to be attempting to control the selection of party candidates at a local level. However, according to The Plot, as reported by Owen, “Mr Smith has controlled the selection of Tory MPs since 2017, with candidates forced to ‘sell their soul’ to him”. Dorries is also with the CDO; it appears, then, that Smith has been targeted because he is an obstacle to Cruddas’s ambitions.


1. Partridge-like, the book contains numerous James Bond references. In this context, though, “Dr No” doesn’t really make sense – the shadowy mastermind in the Bond universe of course is Blofeld. However, this created a problem: Dorries’s literary agent is named Piers Blofeld.

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